Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Process of Production Guest Post from Nath Jones

The Process of Production
by Nath Jones

A friend of mine is a bona fide success. So. I asked him, “What is that? Success? What do you do?”
He said, “I’m not smarter than anybody else. I don’t work harder than anybody else. I just finish things.”
Man. Finish things. Yeah that probably does make a difference, doesn’t it? So. After this conversation with him, I set about the business of polishing some of the writing projects I’d started. And. It really wasn’t that hard to get a few things done. I finished three books in about a year and a half:

The War is Language: 101 Short Works 
2000 Deciduous Trees: Memories of a Zine 
Love & Darts - Stories 
How to Cherish the Grief-Stricken (coming soon)

These are the first three books in a four-book series On Impulse. I’m interested in why we have this urge to tell our stories. In many ways the storytelling impulse is a damnable grace. So. I took some time to explore it from catharsis to craft. The first book is raw and experimental. The last, which will come out next year, is more what you’d expect a traditional collection of literary short stories to be.

Success is all well and fine. Finishing things is great, in theory. But. In the day-to-day grind, how often do we finish a book? There may be no more rare occurrence.

With writing, there is so rarely a sense of accomplishment. The projects never seem finished. So. What’s to be done in the meantime? How on earth does anyone keep writing, especially when we’ve been so conditioned to instant gratification?

Books take years. Short stories can take as long or longer. And. Just because you finish a piece doesn’t mean it will get published; just because it gets published doesn’t mean it will be read. And sales? What? Whatever. So, for me, I really had to develop a gratifying production process for traction through all the ups and downs, ins and outs of this work that so many of us love most.

I provide access to my writing process. I thought about my friend’s father. He makes pizzas in front of a window in our hometown. So. I adapted that model for my Facebook author page. And. I write books in public. To me, it’s a comment on artistic accountability, on solidarity with workers, and on our insistence for corporate transparency. Because how many of us are really open about what we do?

With all the social media changes, the process writing will migrate to a notebook on my author page. It will become less of a comment on what the pre-set forms of Facebook and Twitter do to a cogent train of thought.

But being transparent about how the work is progressing is a challenge. It’s often an embarrassment. Because many days there is very little progress and I am not always accountable to my goals made in the morning. But. Over time it works. It helps me keep going. I really appreciate being part of the community as a working writer instead of feeling cut-off from others in my solitary hermitage.

The work is what it is. The process writing I share on my author page is what would normally go into a pile of spiral bound notebooks. I objectify all those thoughts and emotions that are the raw material for my work.
The result is an unpresentable hodgepodge: Quiet rumination. Brainstorms. Proving grounds for disparate ideas. Character sketches. Perspectives on conflict, on culture. Pontification. Book reviews. Reaction. Response. Planning. I have board meetings where various departments of the enterprise come and make presentations. It’s absurd since I’m the one doing everything. But it’s entertaining. I dabble in different styles, different voices, various kinds of syntax. And. Sometimes the author page is a text that captures the pure joy of life. Because writing on Facebook can curate both real-time and transience in a way that finished books and stories cannot.

In this way, the meta-narrative scaffolding that surrounds and supports a piece of writing can come out of the text. Postmodern play has a space on the author page and the work can stand alone without those distractions that call attention to the writer. Also, and at the same time, those narcissistic tendencies call social media into question. Because certainly we all make choices in how we represent ourselves online. And. Where there is choice, there is fiction.
The War is Language: 101 Short Works:

2000 Deciduous Trees: Memories of a Zine:

Love& Darts – Stories:

On Impulse:

Facebook author page:
author page:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Time and Chaos in a Writer's’ Life - Guest Post from C.V. Hunt

Time and Chaos in a Writer's Life 
C.V. Hunt

Things are crazy here. Not just a little crazy. Like over the top chaotic. And there’s this precious thing that seems to be becoming more and more scarce… time.

Writers struggle every day for a sliver of time. You know… they get up early, get the kids off to school, work a full-time job, go to the kids’ soccer game, fix dinner, spend quality time with the family, tuck the kiddies in at night, and then finally, forfeit sleep so they can create something the world might enjoy.

I don’t have children, but I do have a full-time job. I’m like the majority of the population. And I work a swing-shift to top it off. My schedule is hectic. A lot of times I’m not sure if I’m coming or going. Or even what day it is.

Now add life. You know that thing that happens and you have no control over. Yeah, that’s the one. A separation from your spouse. Your house goes up for sale. Relocation. Things get crazy and time has become a valuable resource.

I’m in this weird limbo now. I travel back and forth between two residences. The housing market isn’t great for sellers. I’ve been waiting with my fingers crossed since June.

But somewhere amid this chaos I found time to do the thing that I enjoy – writing. I didn’t think it was possible. I wasn’t completely sure I should be writing. My mind was in constant turmoil. I kept thinking, What kind of story would I produce if my head wasn’t on straight?

I hadn’t taken a break from writing since I started publishing a few years ago. But I was terrified to stop. What if I lost it? What if I stopped writing and couldn’t start up again. I think anyone who’s truly passionate about writing has this exact same fear. Or at least some do. I know some writers who intentionally take breaks, but I had never done it.

So I kept going.

Time and I have been playing a good game of hide and seek since all of this started. A half hour here… only twenty minutes there… And what was the end result from this?

How To Kill Yourself.

Yeah, I know. The title seems to throw people on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Some are offended immediately. Others find it funny. I’ve been sitting back and watching the chaos it’s created among readers. It reminds me of the chaos my mind was in when I was writing it. (And here’s something most readers don’t know. When a book is picked up by a publisher the title and cover design is almost always chosen by them.)

The story was created when resources were low (time). Moral was low. Life was crazy (chaos). It still is crazy. Nothing’s been resolved, yet. But I felt time was of the essence when I wrote How To Kill Yourself. How? I offer you a quote:

“Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning.” - Katherine Anne Porter

If you’re interested in finding out what kind of story I produce when time is precious, and life is chaos, you can check out How To Kill Yourself at or visit my site

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Falling – and Staying – in Love with Your Publisher - Guest Post from Sandra Hunter

Falling – and Staying – in Love with Your Publisher
Sandra Hunter

Your manuscript has been rejected so many times there must be a rubber band attached to your mailbox. What now? What about a publishing party? Poets do it in droves, assembling their tiny, beautifully crafted chapbooks together, joking about paper cuts, and awl-stabbings. How long does it take to print and bind a 300 page novel anyway?

And then it happens. The email lands in your inbox: a publisher wants your novel. Not only that, they praise your writing for its integrity, its beauty of language, its breadth of vision.
After a quick web-search you establish that this publisher is not only strong and handsome, but comes fully-loaded with a reputable publishing track record. You’ve found your publishing Bugatti. You sign a contract. A contract!

And then, there comes the email asking for revisions. It’s like your new sweetie honing in on your personal hygiene. Honey? You need a different mouthwash.

A deep breath, okay, several deep breaths, and you can deal with it. You follow the instructions carefully. You edit ruthlessly, you tie up unexplained ends in fairy bows. You re-order or even delete a few chapters. You send off your rewrite, feeling bruised but good and virtuous.

Silence for a week. Doubt. Should you have pruned more? You develop severe plot anxiety. Was it clear that Esmé was dating Lyle before she shot Marcy? Did you tidy up that business about the disused well?
You send off an email: Just checking to see if you received the …

A cheery reply: They’ve been busy but they’ll get right back to you.

Three more nail-biting weeks later, another email arrives. They love what you’ve done. It’s clear now that Esmé was dating Lyle before old Marcy got hers (sad she had to go that way, but amazing tension). And such a wise move to remove that disused well cliché.

And then there’s white space and a new paragraph: So some of the following comments are just to finalize a few things…

Don’t tear your hair out. Don’t burn the contract. Don’t say you’ll never write anything again. Or, do say that, as you pour yourself a large glass of whatever makes you feel less inclined to throw the laptop through the window. And breathe. Big gulps of oxygen. A second glass of whatever, etc.

Many new novelists—and I feature prominently on that honor roll—think that, once the manuscript is accepted by a publisher, they’re done. Hands in the air, break out the champagne, prepare for instant fame or at least a lot more hits on the Facebook page.

Revision is what editors do. It is the celery stick they poke into their Bloody Marys to stir up whatever lurks at the bottom of Bloody Marys. They know their markets, and they also know that the critics are waiting to chew up your novel like a fresh Krispy Kreme.

Okay, mixed food metaphors aside, publishing editors have vested interests. They have their reputations to consider. But they’re also doing you a favor by insisting on the rewrite. You may be a dab hand at short stories but, as far as the market is concerned, you’re a brand new novelist.  You get one shot at establishing yourself and your publisher wants to make sure it’s your best.

Swallow. Breathe. Gird up your loins or whatever you like to gird, and accept that signing the contract is just the next step in the entire process. Because after publishing comes selling the  book!
And if a publisher accepts your novel and doesn’t ask for a rewrite? You’re either a genius, or you should be really, really nervous!

My novel, Losing Touch, will be out in 2013 – after many rewrites! The publisher, OneWorld Publications, is based in the UK. And my editor, Juliet Mabey, is wonderful!

The novel follows Arjun, a South Indian immigrant adapting to 1960s London. An excerpt can be found here:

Online short fiction can be found here: (page 137).

Sandra Hunter’s fiction has appeared in a number of literary magazines. In 2011, she won the  Arthur Edelstein Short Fiction Prize, and received finalist awards from Black Warrior Review and Zoetrope All-Story. In 2012 she won the Cobalt Fiction Prize. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Some Comments on The He and She of It - Guest Post from Barry Spacks

Some Comments on The He and She of It
Barry Spacks

This novella about graduate students in a Midwest English Department might seem to some readers a bit raw as to its sexual scenes even in our own raunchy times, and in such regard rather counter-traditional in that it is set back in the supposedly prim 50s.

The piece started out as a notion for a novel, but as I played with its voices, it kept tightening. I'm a follower of Baudelaire in believing that one should think as a poet while writing prose (while doing anything, for that matter) so I liked the fact that the events I had in mind clipped along briskly in  short chapters that gave me the chance to tuck in examples of the poem-work of the two main male characters. Cutting and tightening has always been for me the key working habit in messing with poetry drafts, and that's what happened here. I love the novella form when it captures the gist of the cross-country slog of a novel in its own condensed, more sprint-like way.

The writing allowed me to press against the false notion that sex hadn't been discovered by American young people before the revolutionary period of the 60s-early-70s. I'd lived a rather rowdy life as a university student in the supposedly placid, Leavitt-town decade of the 50s, and reflecting this became the heart of the tale. All the details are invented, of course, but in the way of fiction they carry the writer's own experience, made more dramatic.

My life has primarily been a history of women, my thought and writing an effort to understand and celebrate them. My problem with the work on this novella -- or long story -- was to come clean with a threesome-plot's sexual material -- some of it maybe shocking to more Puritanical taste -- without slipping into the ugliness of pornographic miasma. The solution, I feel, was the creation of a rather arch, literary feel to the piece, Nabokov's solution to the same problem in Lolita.

This emphasis on writers and writing serves also to bring the period more faithfully alive as an ongoing evocation of  what "English-majoring" felt like, sounded like, in those self-important days.

For more news on my recent work and interests, please click on:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Some Thoughts about Writing - Guest Post from Robert Wexelblatt

Some Thoughts about Writing

Robert Wexelblatt

There is nothing so difficult as writing, at least from one point of view.  Even when I yearn to do nothing more than to write, there is hardly anything I won’t do to avoid it, from swabbing down the bathroom to looking up the definition of enfilade. One reason I write is just that it is so hard for me to do.

From another point of view, writing is easy.  Anybody can do it; in fact, almost everybody does.  My one stint as judge of a national poetry contest persuaded me that far more people write the stuff than read it.  The late Carlos Fuentes had something like the same idea.  He once complained that Mexico suffered from having a million poets and scarcely a single critic. What I suppose I mean is that bad writing is easy and can be accomplished almost thoughtlessly, like sneezing.  The words tear across the computer screen, encountering no resistance, appearing almost of their own accord, without mass, quite weightless.

I use a computer too, for everything except poems, essays, novels, and stories.  These I have to begin with a large black fountain pen, my chief link to tradition.  The Pelikan slows me down; to form a verse, a sentence, a paragraph is a physical enterprise.  Each word has a weight that must be lifted then set down, indited, inscribed.  Writing is like thirst and drinking:  the pleasure is simultaneous with, inseparable from, the pain.

Maybe it is true that anyone can write; but I imagine the true writer will agree with Thomas Mann.  Asked to define a writer, Mann replied:  “That’s simple.  A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”  In the same way, dancing is more demanding for a dancer than for those of us who throw ourselves clumsily around the floor.

One of the surest tests of a true writer may be his or her capacity to endure Not Writing.  It is no easy matter to stare at a page white as Moby Dick’s flank, to hold your pen over it—barely an inch over it, yet an infinite inch.  Not Writing can make a writer desperate and superstitious.  You begin to wonder how to propitiate the gods, what to do to waken the Muse.  Would a blood sacrifice do the trick?  A burnt offering?  Should the proposition be made, would you sell your soul for a first sentence?

Writing may be the only sin that can be redeemed by being well committed.  It takes some nerve to write, sheer chutzpah, and it can feel like a type of vanity.  But the urge to write is not always impure or egoistic; there is also a mystery about it and inspiration—having been breathed into—can justify it.  When the writing is going exceptionally well and it feels more like taking dictation than invention, this is because invention is proceeding beneath the level of consciousness. . . or perhaps, on a really good day, above it.

As an undertaking, writing is ambiguously private and public.  For instance, to write a poem or a story is initially a solitary act, wholly interior.  One writes first to satisfy or relieve oneself, or to do what the heroes who have consoled you in your solitude have done.  The spectacularly well-adjusted and gregarious seldom take up writing seriously.  And yet writing is also an undeniably social act.  The 3700-year-old Akkadian letters unearthed at Zimri-Lin all begin “To my lord say. . .”  From the first, then, writing has been a way of projecting a voice over space and time, obliterating both.  Any writer could say with the reclusive Emily Dickinson, “This is my letter to the world.”  Do I write for myself alone?  Yes.  Do I need a reader?  Again, yes.

Ex nihilo?  Yes, a good deal of writing proceeds out of nothingness, not from knowing what to report but from an emptiness stirred up by the urge to write. In the beginning was the Word, but before the Logos, there was nothing.  A character, a place, a fight, a scheme, a variety of weather, a philosopher, the texture of silk, the meaning of a parable —I cannot know these things until I have imagined my way inside them.  And yet it is also true that one writes in order to free oneself from what one has imagined. For a while the story, the poem is the focus of everything; but when the tale or the sonnet is completed—and especially if it is published—you may feel liberated from it.  Often I can’t even remember what I’ve written, which can be embarrassing, but it is only because I have moved on.

How much do the opinions of others matter?  It is always nice to receive a sympathetic and positive review, unpleasant to read the opposite, because the former encourages one to go on writing, while the latter does not.  But do these judgments really count?  Should one’s emotional chart move much either way?  Here the old Socratic distinction between appearance and reality can be helpful:  good reviews and bad ones are both appearances; either way there remain the same words you wrote, and in the same order too.  For novelists there is the comfort of Randall Jarrell’s mordant definition of their genre:  “. . . a novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it. . . .”

I have published a novel called Zublinka Among Women and something over nine score short stories.  The novel is long, the stories short and, no doubt, both can have something wrong with them, but their size matters.  In fiction, length determines form.  In the short story plot tends to prevail over character (albeit not always), while in novels character dominates any particular action (again, not invariably).  Henry James called what lay between the novel and the short story “the beautiful and blest novella.”  Why beautiful and blest?  I think it is because, ideally, the novella can achieve a precise balance between action and character. This is what I strove for in Losses, a short novel that probably has a good deal wrong with it.  It has been published this year by Vagabondage Press.